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Wednesday, 28 November 1973
Page: 4000

Mr KATTER (Kennedy) - I should like to make brief reference to 2 inferences drawn by the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor). Firstly, he gave his usual catchcry when he referred to having heard a dirge on behalf of overseas interests. Let me make one point clearly and decisively. Any interest that I have - I am sure this refers also to the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fairbairn) - in this disaster that has hit the mining and the energy industries, concerns the greater numbers of people who are affected by it - not the mammoth companies who can well look after their own interests but the rank and file. The Minister for Minerals and Energy, and speakers from that side of the House who may follow him in this debate, would do well to visit the areas of production, mix with the rank and file and find out what their views are. I issue that challenge and that invitation to the Minister. So much for his claim about the dirge on behalf of overseas interests.

The Minister made reference to some minimal action which was taken at some time in the history of Queensland by a State Labor government. Honourable members will notice that he religiously avoided any reference to the huge mining and energy interests that exist in that State and in New South Wales at the moment and which are staggering under the blows which have been perpetrated by this Minister and by this Government. They are staggering under those blows wondering what the future holds and whether there is any security left in the industry. The little man is wondering whether he should develop some lease that he has sat on for years and now sees no future prospects of making a go of it.

The Opposition has introduced again for discussion as a matter of public importance the conduct or, perhaps more particularly, the attitude of the Minister for Minerals and Energy to matters which we claim are of critical importance to the future prosperity and, what is far more important, the future security of the people of Australia. I refer, of course, to the matter of our reserves of crude oil and the lamentable, unsatisfactory and totally inadequate way in which he and this Government seek to increase those reserves.

It is an attitude, of course, stimulated and regimented by the determination of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) and the Government to reduce all phases of national life in this great country to the sort of radical jackboot bureaucracy that recently reduced the mining industry in Chile to chaos and which brought the workers of that country to their knees. I say again - I think it is worth repeating - that just prior to the regrettable revolution in Chile about 750,000 workers rose in rebellion at one public meeting. This great mass of people could no longer stand tyranny. A ripple is going through this nation at the moment, believe you me. There is only one way that that ripple of insecurity, almost of revolution, can be removed; this Government should go to the people. That is the only way that this problem can be cured.

Repetition is only rarely justified. On this occasion is it. I, therefore, again ask honourable members to consider these very telling facts which reveal in appalling clarity just how this Minister and this Government have almost completely brought to a standstill any effective oil search activities in this country. I ask honourable members to examine a couple of these facts. I do not like to quote figures but the ones that I will quote are such an indictment that they must be quoted and recorded in the hearts and minds of the Australian people.

The Queensland oil index was at an all-time high of 458.3 in July 1968; at the end of 1969 it stood at 296.1; at the end of October 1973, it was 101.4. If that fact alone was produced, it would be an indictment of the Minister and his Department. The Sydney Fuel and Power Index in January 1973 stood at 238. I ask honourable members to listen to the next figure. Hold on to your seats. The Sydney Fuel and Power Index at the end of October 1973 was 176. We heard a great tirade - or should I describe it as another historic volumeof unimpressive stuff from the Minister when he referred to the great activities occurring in Australia at the moment. Let him answer the question posed by these facts. Capitalisation of oil explorers in January 1973 was $550m and at the end of October 1973 was $260m. I say again as was pointed out by the honourable member for Farrer quite explicitly that only 11 of the available 31 drilling rigs in Australia are working. That is the fact of the matter.

Total expenditure on oil exploration development and production to mid- 1973 was estimated at only $1.5 billion. A further $1.6 billion will be needed to develop our existing reserves. These are facts. To the end of 1971 the total government subsidy for this work was $11 lm. These are not fictitious and built up figures that have been thrown at us from the other side of the House. It is a small price to pay over 20 years or more to reach a state of 70 per cent self sufficiency. Much has been said about Australia producing 70 per cent of its petroleum requirements. That is the current position. I point out that the previous Government's policy, and the previous Government's attitude of co-operation with the industry, stimulated by a real concern for the freedom and the security of the people of Australia, did much to achieve this self reliance. But the stark reality is that Australia's demand for petroleum, now about half a million barrels a day, will grow to 2 million barrels a day by the year 2,000. That is a 300 per cent increase. When we enter the 1980s, production from the existing known oil reserves in Australia will be starting to run down. I ask honourable members and the people of Australia to note that point well.

If we want to keep our 70 per cent rate of self sufficiency we will need to find another 10 billion barrels over the next 20 years or 5 times our existing discoveries to date. If Australia is to be 100 per cent self sufficient we will need to find an additional 4 billion barrels. Exploration effectively, at the moment, has come to a standstill. Despite this dangerous situation the Minister for Minerals and Energy sluggishly, dangerously and with a boorish determination to close the door on constructive dialogue with those in the industry is turning his back on those whom he regards as mugs and hillbillies. He has destroyed all confidence in the people who can produce the oil. Honourable members might well ask: What should be done? How do members of the Opposition see the position?' Let me quote what has been said by the Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony). My Leader said:

We have 4 choices: First, make drastic efforts to encourage the exploration for, and the development of, new reserves. Second, steadily increase our dependence on progressively dearer and scarcer overseas supplies. Third, drastically restrict our consumption and, by inference, our pattern of economic growth. Fourth, develop alternative energy sources. Perhaps the most unacceptable alternative would be to allow our dependence on overseas supplies to increase, with a consequent loss of independence in foreign policy, and a growing economic reliance on a politically unstable source of supply. Facing this situation, and in view of its closeness, logic should compel considerable intensification of our exploration efforts. It should also compel a comprehensive effort to fully investigate our future energy requirements, and the energy sources that will be necessary to adequately meet them.

As one who comes from the frontier parts of this nation, I have my mind firmly set on our defence. It is not necessary for me to tell anyone in this House how much the defence of this nation depends upon the availability of reliable oil and fuel supplies generally. Is it not quite obvious that we have here a rather appalling and terrifying cocktail of national disaster, that is, the mixture of a reduction of our defence capabilities to something that is a joke internationally with the freezing of oil exploration in Australia? What would be a greater formula for disaster than a cutting down of our defence capability and a reduction in our oil resources? On this issue alone I challenge the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) - I am sure every person on this side of the House would be delighted if he were to do so - to call a double dissolution and to get the verdict of this nation on just how the Government, in particular the Minister for Minerals and Energy, is performing.

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